Many Americans enjoy watching television shows,especially crime-related series. A nationally famous show that comes to mind for many is Cops. Cops has been on television since early 1989 airing over one thousand episodes. Cops is just one of the several ‘reality-based’ crime shows that are popular because of its live broadcast of police on the streets. Many wonder how these shows affect our daily lives, our attitudes toward crime, criminals, and police.
In a 1994 study conducted by Penn State Professor of Communications and Psychology Mary Beth Oliver aimed to investigate how reality-based police shows can influence public attitudes of crime, race and aggression. She believed it was important to understand that the portrayals of crime-related topics in news and fictional police programs may serve to cultivate perceptions of a dangerous world, to intensify racism, reduce support for civil liberties, and promote positive opinions of police. Within her study,Oliver explored the portrayals typical in this genre that researchers identified as potentially important in relation to viewers’ attitudes and believes. She specifically investigates a) the types of crimes typically portrayed, (b) the resolutions most frequently featured, (c) the ethnic and racial representation of police officers and criminal suspects, and (d) the incidence of aggressive behaviors (p. 180).
For her actual research, Oliver recorded five programs including America’s Most Wanted, Cops,Top Cops, FBI, The Untold Story, and American Detective. Seventy-six programs were recorded in a year and a half, almost 57.5 hours’ worth including commercials. These shows were analyzed by five of Oliver’s students. Their behavior was coded and counted within the results. Using the unit of analysis for her method, Oliver programmed the characters on all five shows and coded them depending on their airtime. This included the main police and the main suspects. For example, “back-up” officers were not coded, and individuals associated with the main suspect but were not questioned by police were not coded either. Gender, race, and character portrayal were then coded for each character on the shows. With this, four types of aggressive behaviors were then coded: verbal aggression (insults, cursing, or negative affective reaction),threat of physical aggression (cause physical harm to a person, like physically holding a knife against someone, saying “if you don’t give me your money, I’ll kill you” or “stop or I’ll shoot”), unarmed physical aggression (kicking,punching, or attaching another), and armed physical aggression (use of a gun,knife, or club, for instance (p. 182). These groups helped categorize the next code: the committed crime. These included selling or buying drugs, robbery,rape or sexual assault, kidnapping, theft, loitering, drunk driving, murder,etc.
The Five undergraduate students performed as coder. There were two females and three males. Reliability of the coding scheme was measured by having all five coders individually analyze three randomly chosen pre-season episodes. With this, they had to make 76 decisions concerning the crime type and 96 decisions whether the presence of the infliction and receipt of aggressive behavior was there or not, which was then categorized further.The results showed very interesting data. Of the index crimes depicted in these programs, 87% of criminal suspects were associated with violent crimes;whereas, FBI data classified only 13% of all crimes as violent (p. 185). The show is contrary to the reality, because in reality, crime is less violent.
Oliver noted other differences between the portrayals and reality along racial lines as well in terms of success. The five programs tended to portray a high frequency of successful resolutions for the police. Additionally,in regards to racial representation, 88.3% of the police were white, 9% black,and 2.6% Hispanic. White characters more often appeared as police officers than as criminal suspects; however, black and Hispanic characters more frequently appeared as criminal suspects than they did as police officers. In terms of aggressive behaviors, at least 50% of officers used at least one type of aggression. A larger percentage of criminal suspects at 38.5% were represented as receiving at least one type of aggression, compared to the 21.7% for police officers.
In conclusion, these programs not only overrepresentviolent crime, but they also overrepresent the percentage of crimes that are cleared or solved by law enforcement personal. These programs also underrepresent blacks and overrepresent whites as police, in comparison to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. Finally, police enforcement also uses aggressive behavior more than the criminal suspects.These results demonstrate that these stereotypes portrayed on reality-based police shows can heavily influence one’s attitudes and perceptions.
Oliver, M.B. (1994). Portrayals of crime, race, and aggression in “reality-based” police shows: A content analysis. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 179-192. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08838159409364255
Television shapes our attitudes and beliefs, and nowhere is this more evident than in crime shows. Popular crime shows draw audiences in with their suspenseful plot and unique characters, but they also impact their audience’s perspectives. Some common viewer beliefs are interpretations of race, gender, and ethnicity of police verses criminals. With over 300 crime shows that have aired on TV, they still remain the police procedurals and legal dramas that many enjoy worldwide. My project will investigate these viewers’attitudes that are shaped from crime television shows.
Two groups that are portrayed stereotypically in crime shows are of blacks and whites. Blacks are typically disproportionately featured on these shows as criminals. Many crime television series tend to include majority black criminals and dominant white police officers. Tukachinsky(2015) revealed that exposure to crime programs with dominant black criminals have been linked to elevated perceptions of crime rates among the black community. However, 69.3% of all individuals arrested for all crimes were white, 28.1% were black and 2.6% were of other races (FBI: UCR, 2009). Additionally,according to Oliver (2009), among the criminal suspects presented in reality-based crime series, 54.3% were white, 29.9% were black. These results suggest a shocking unevenness for what we actually perceive on TV verses what is actually happening around us in the ‘real world’.
It is also supported that within reality-based crime shows (e.g. Cops), there is an underrepresentation of black police and overrepresentation of white police, in comparison to government statistics(Oliver 1994). 88.3% of the law enforcement officers in these reality-based crime shows were white, while 9% of officers were blacks. When compared to actual statistics of police, in 2016, 79% of officers are white, and 13% are black (Data USA, 2016). Overall, the perceptions and stereotypes we obtain about race impacts how one thinks, behaves, and how they make decisions.
There are also stereotypes regarding minority races portrayed on crime shows. Tukachinsky (2015) revealed that there has been a severe underrepresentation of Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans,and a tendency to depict ethnic minorities stereotypically. The minority characters social and professional status has varied over the years. For example, women of color are more likely to be presented as hyper-sexual and less professional, while Latinos are represented as passionate and seductive,and some blacks are represented with lower abilities and work ethnic(Tukachinsky, 2015). Thus, with these examples given and with the monitoring the audience’s mental representation, these minority characters can increase more biases and attitudes based off the stereotypes seen on the screen.Relevant to Oliver’s (1994) findings
Another perspective viewers obtain from crime shows is their attitude toward mental health issues and mentally unstable criminals.Mental ill characters on television shows are portrayed as 10 times more likely to be a violent criminal than a nonmentally disordered characters (Dienfenbach &West, 2007). Dienfenbach & West (2007) investigated into the mental health character scenario and found that emphasis on crime shows, mental ill people always have been stereotypes of dangerous and aggressive, unpredictable, and untrustworthy. These connotations the mental ill receive shape the attitudes of viewers. It is true that some deliberately avoid contact with those who suffer mental problems because the stereotypes they accept on television negatively shapes their mind. Results of Dienfenbach & West’s study (2007) displayed that people are in fact reluctant to admit these portrayals that they have and how it impacts them in real life (an example is avoiding mentally ill people by not wanting to live next to them).
Watching crime shows can have early influence on young TV viewers, as their attitudes about crime are just beginning to form. At their age, children are prone to getting glued to the television. The TV is a powerful educational medium for their age. As their opinions are beginning to form, they learn what they see on the screen. J. Dominick (1974) found that when kids view crime shows, they are more likely to become aware of law enforcement and civil liberties (Dominick, 1974). Children were able to identify police personal and those who were more likely to watch more crime shows were able to better identify these individuals as law enforcement (Dominick, 1974). Majority of the children believed that criminals usually get caught, although this many not be the case every time. Dominick (1974) also discovered that kids begin to understand civil liberties, but not the legal system. Children know that under the law, one has the right to remain silent when arrested. However, majority crime shows end with the arrest, and does not focus on what happens in the court system (Dominick, 1974). This reflects why children are less likely to understand the workings of the whole judicial system, which is equally important. This learning process is helping shape children’s beliefs about police and crime, impacting their attitudes and demonstrating how children learn from TV, whether it is good or bad.
TV crime dramas transport viewers into a fictional world that creates fear of crime but without changing perceptions of a mean world(Romer & Jamieson, 2014). Over the years, crime shows have become more intensely graphic with increased violence. Our brains are hooked to the plot of crime shows, knowing we are watching from a safe environment (Smith, 2018). Our brains want to understand the gruesome and bizarre motivation behind the violence and learn about the darkness of a criminal act (Smith, 2018). As society has changed over time, a shift in portrayals of police and criminals on TV has too (Dowler, 2016), but the more one watches these shows, the more likely they could get increased anxiety and nightmares, boosting your body’s overall stress levels (Smith, 2018). Romer and Jamieson (2014) presented that there may not be strong enough data to suggest that watching TV drams causes more intense fear or crime, but fear of crime and violence on TV do appear to trend together.
Views formed from watching crime shows can have real world impacts, such as when people serve on juries. A study done by Hayes-Smith& Levett (2011) discovered how crime TV series could influence jurors’evaluations of evidence. The researchers used the CSI Effect theory, which influences American jurors to expect more forensic evidence to convict the offender, to show how crime shows cultivate and shape people’s perceptions of social reality, specifically on forensic evidence in the court room(Hayes-Smith & Levett, 2011). In their study, jurors rendered a verdict,rated the evidence and described their crime show behavior. These results supported an interaction between a level of forensic evidence and crime show viewing in that those who watched crime shows were more likely to favor the defense than those who did not in some evidence conditions (Hayes-Smith &Levett, 2011). Additionally, their findings more than supported the CSI Effect and expressed worry for jurors to release guilty defendants because of them is belief they gained from crime shows of more forensic evidence (Hayes-Smith& Levett, 2011).
Crime shows can also affect the way police personal are seen executing their jobs. Tobin (2016) explored crime dramas’ extent of the impact on contemporary criminal investigations and law enforcement, proposing that the CSI Effect affects the way law enforcement officials do their jobs. What viewers see on these shows is not an accurate representation of real-life criminal investigations, and the fifteen law enforcement officials that were interviewed by Tobin (2016) recognized this. They also recognized the differences in what they do verses what is aired on television for people to misinterpret. Tobin (2016) discovered that cases,situations and opinions of her interviewees were all diverse. However, this study proposes that these unreal expectations of police (good or bad cop, which is rarely used), and forensic evidence (DNA result time is longer than what’s seen on TV, because it actually takes a few months for results to be returned),give the impression to viewers to perceive actual police unfavorably after seeing how quickly they get things done on TV crime shows. However, Tobin’s study(2016) only allows for more research to be done
When we psychologically form attitudes and beliefs in our brains, we tune out other possibilities of differences. When it comes to stereotypes formed in crime television series, we are easily influenced by what we see on the screen, which isn’t necessary true. Viewers obtain inaccurate opinions of black and white police enforcement verses criminals, minority stereotypes, and of mentally ill persons being more likely to be dangerous convicts. Crime shows can have real world effects on not only adults, but children and young adults. The youth is also heavily influenced by crime shows, gaining attitudes and learning how the justice system works. Additionally, crime series can impact people who serve on juries, increasing the CSI Effect. All the evidence within this paper supports that popular crime television shows can affect attitudes and beliefs of constant viewers. Looking into the future, we can only hope and contribute work to help television crime shows become less stereotypical and more like real-life crimes that happen every day, ensuring less biased attitudes of viewers who love crime shows.
For my project, I will be learning about the psychology behind crime shows. I will discover how people’s beliefs and attitudes are influenced by crime shows on television. I decided to further investigate this topic because I love crime shows. One thing that I have noticed while watching some popular crime series on television or Netflix is the attitude I gain when watching these shows. An example of this could be my personal belief that law enforcement always wins regardless of the circumstances and that mentally ill people are more likely to become criminals than someone who is not mentally ill. These beliefs are drawn from crime shows that I am hooked to. I also picked my topic because I am a Communication Studies major. In the Communication Studies major here at R-MC, we explore and investigate the media. With connecting my project topic with my major, I can use my prior knowledge to help draw new conclusions. I can also use these conclusions to help advance my studies as a student.
For my overall project, I will hopefully be addressing two audiences. My first audience will be the public. I want the American public to be aware of my topic to prevent external biases they could possibly obtain from watching crime series on television. The second audience I will be addressing is the psychology field. By informing psychologists of my research found in my project, they could possibly advance their data and knowledge (even though they are already experts!).
My project goals are very distinct. I want to inform my audience of the possibility of crime television shows impacting their attitudes and beliefs. I also want to be able to conduct research that will be beneficial for my audience. I want them to be aware of these beliefs they could obtain. I want to discover how attitudes are shaped by these shows considering the topics of race, ethnicity, mental health, fear of crime, view of law enforcement and criminals, along with jury impacts. These topics are very structured and can help prove that biases and distinct beliefs are formed from the crime shows on television.
If someone gave me ten-thousand dollars to expand my project, I would conduct an advanced psychological study. I would take a wide range of participants and survey them asking them questions regarding crime shows and their beliefs. Or I could ask people to watch certain crime shows and survey them on how they feel. I would definitely fill in the gaps from other researchers’ work once I feel I have learned and understood more. With my money, I would then expand scholars previous work within this area. I would want to be part of a psychological research, and investigating crime shows and how they can influence the public’s attitudes and perspectives would be great. With a bank account of ten-thousand whopping dollars, I would also spend some of it on a public outreach campaign to help inform people about the negative side of crime shows, like how one views criminals and law enforcement based off the shows we watch all the time on television.
Dominick, J. R. (1974). Children’s Viewing of Crime Shows and Attitudes on Law Enforcement. Journalism Quarterly, 5-12. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from https://sci-hub.tw/10.1177/107769907405100101.
This mass communication study is associated with my project because it is great research about how children view crime shows and then their attitudes on law enforcement. This study partook in four NYC schools, where 371 fifth graders filled out questionnaires. These questionnaires were modified based off their ages and resulted that for these children viewing of crime shows was positively correlated with being able to identify a character as someone associated with law enforcement, belief that criminals usually get caught and know and understand civil rights when arrested (e.g., right to remain silent). Another result of this study included that when the child valued TV more, the less likely they would be to inform the police about a witnessed crime.
Carlson, J. M. (1983). Crime Show Viewing by Pre-Adults: The Impact on Attitudes Toward Civil Liberties. Communication Research, 529-552. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from file:///C:/Users/Taylor2/Downloads/carlson1983.pdf.
This research by James M. Carlson at Providence College reports that preadults, ages eleven to eighteen years old, are influenced by crime shows that they watch at their age. This research was conducted in 1983 and may be considered older research. However, it is still relevant for today’s time, especially now that television use has increased from the 80s and technology has advanced. These preadults’ attitudes toward civil liberties are impacted by shows that involve some type of criminal ‘reality’. In this study, Carlson describes how communication researchers are beginning to connect consumption of entertainment programs to psychological, socio-political attitudes. These results are important for my audience to see because it shows a specific group, preadults, being impacted by crime-based television shows.
Tukachinsky, R., Mastro, D., & Yarchi, M. (2015). Documenting Portrayals of Race/Ethnicity on Primetime Television over a 20-Year Span and Their Association with National-Level Racial/Ethnic Attitudes. Journal of Social Issues, 71(1), 17-38. doi:10.1111/josi.12094. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from file:///C:/Users/Taylor2/Downloads/Tukachinsky_et_al-2015-Journal_of_Social_Issues%20(1).pdf
This research conducted examines the association between the prevalence of ethnic minority characters (such as Blacks and Latinos) on television shows and compares White attitudes because of it. The conductors of this study chose to employ a repeated cross-sectional survey design, looking specifically at the tensions between internal validity and generalizability. My audience needs to understand the biases that occur on television shows so looking at this study is prevalent. They also touch on crime shows and their influence on Blacks, because exposure to shows like Cops elevates perceptions of crime rates among Blacks.
Oliver, M. (1994). Portrayals of Crime, Race, and Aggression in “Reality-Based” Police Shows: A Content Analysis. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 179-192. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from https://heinonline.org/HOL/Print?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/jbem38&id=189.
This study is important to include in my sources because it investigates reality-based police shows, like Cops, Top Cops, FBI, and America’s Most Wanted. Oliver suggests that the portrayals of crime-related topics in news and fictional police programs may serve to cultivate perceptions of a dangerous world, to intensify racism, reduce support for civil liberties, and promote positive remarks of police. Oliver recorded five programs and coded ‘main’ police in these shows as well as the ‘main’ criminal(s) to note the gender, race, and aggressive behavior of each individual in each category. These findings showed that these shows have underrepresented blacks and overrepresented whites as police officers, in comparison to government statistics. They also found that police are more likely to use aggressive behavior, whereas the suspects are more likely to ‘suffer’ from these behaviors.
n.a. (2013). Police Department Race and Ethnicity Demographic Data. Governing. Retrieved November 17, 2018, from http://www.governing.com/gov-data/safety-justice/police-department-officer-demographics-minority-representation.html
This source is a statistical piece that will allow my audience to see law enforcement populations from a racial and ethnical demographic perspective. It is significant to show accurate data on this controversial topic, so by having this website’s data to include will help those understand the diversity of the police departments all across the United States.
CRIME in the United States: Table 43. (2013, August 07). FBI: UCR. Retrieved November 18, 2018, from https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/tables/43tabledatadecoverviewpdf
This is another statistical piece of evidence I will be incorporating in my project. This information is from the FBI: UCR website and gives three tables for arrests in 2012 categorized by race. I feel my audience also needs to see the demographics of people arrested to compare white criminals to black. For example, in 2012 over six million whites were arrested compared to over two million blacks. It is interesting seeing this and comparing to the crime shows, who, some say, only use black actors and actresses as criminals.
Dienfenbach, D. L., & West, M. D. (2007). Television and Attitudes Toward Mental Health Issues: Cultivation Analysis and the Third-Person Effect. Journal of Community Psychology, 32(2), 181-195. doi:10.1002/jcop.20142 Retrieved November 14, 2018, from file:///C:/Users/Taylor2/Downloads/Diefenbach_et_al-2007-Journal_of_Community_Psychology%20(1).pdf
Television shows don’t always trigger a higher chance of attitudes toward race. Another issue besides race is mental illness. Mental ill characters on television shows are portrayed as 10 times more likely to be a violent criminal than nonmentally disordered characters, according to Dienfenbach and West in this study. Using cultivation analysis and a community survey, they generated hypotheses to examine viewer attitudes toward the mentally ill citizens. Results of this study showed that people are in fact reluctant to admit these portrayals that they have and how it impacts them in real life (an example is avoiding mentally ill people by not wanting to live next to them). At the end of this study, the researchers advise for mental health professionals and policy makers to help alleviate change for this stereotype.
Wilson, C., Nairn, R., Coverdale, J., & Panapa, A. (1999). Mental Illness Depictions in Prime-Time Drama: Identifying the Discursive Resources. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 232-239. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from http://www.brown.uk.com/stigma/wilson.pdf
This study’s objective was to determine how the mentally ill are depicted in prime-time tv shows, similar to my previous one. However, this study refers to Australasian television. The reason I am showing my audience this study from Australia is to be able to relate other countries other than the United States to get a global perspective on mental illness on TV. Although these may not be crime dramas, it is still important to understand the severity of these stereotypes. They studied 14 programs and 20 mental ill characters and found that these characters are represented as dangerous/aggressive (physical violence like killing others, threats, suicide and emotional outbursts), unpredictability, dangerous/incompetence, and untrustworthy. Overall, this study shows the negative depictions of mental ill and contribute to the stigmatization of this population.
Hayes-Smith, R. M., & Levett, L. M. (2011). Jury’s Still Out: How Television and Crime Show Viewing Influences Juror’s Evaluations of Evidence. Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice, 29-46. Retrieved November 18, 2018, from http://dev.cjcenter.org/_files/apcj/APCJ 7-1pdfhayes.pdf_1317914509.pdf
This study specified a distinct interaction between the level of forensic evidence and crime show viewing in that those who watched crime shows were more likely to favor the defense than those who did not in some evidence conditions. They describe the cultivation theory, which argues that heavy TV watching influences people’s perceptions of social reality. Described is also the CSI Effect, which is defined in terms of the TV medium through crime shows cultivating one’s perceptions of social reality, specifically, their perceptions of forensic science.
Smith, P. (2018, April 05). This Is Your Brain on True Crime Stories. Retrieved November 17, 2018, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/psychological-reasons-you-love-true-crime-stories_n_5ac39559e4b09712fec4b143
This is just a simple article in the Huffington Post written by journalist Paige Smith uncovering the psychological reasons why we enjoy crime shows and how they impact us mentally. Interviewing professors of psychology and other qualified individuals, this article explains that we find these crime shows fascinating because it offers different parts of the human psyche. But at the same time, with continuous exposure to true crime shows, it can negatively affect your body because you are so tense and stressed. This is a good article to let my audience know a little background of the crime shows impacting us, psychologically.